The Cottingley Cen­te­nary

In July 1917, Elsie Wright and Frances Grif­fiths claimed to have cap­tured real fairies on film us­ing their fa­ther’s cam­era. One hun­dred years on, FIONA MA­HER re­vis­its the Cottingley pho­to­graphs and asks who was fool­ing whom in this clas­sic case.

Fortean Times - - Contents -

In July 1917, Elsie Wright and Frances Grif­fiths claimed to have cap­tured real fairies on film. One hun­dred years on, Fiona Ma­her asks who was fool­ing whom in this clas­sic case.

De­spite their some­times fierce rep­u­ta­tion in tra­di­tional sto­ries, the fairies have al­ways been good to me: whether through my writ­ing or the Leg­endary Fairy Fes­ti­val I or­gan­ise in North Wales, they have al­ways looked af­ter me. So, if you’re a be­liever then don’t be dis­mayed by what fol­lows: I’m not seek­ing to prove or dis­prove the ex­is­tence of the fairy folk – but the story of the Cottingley fairy pho­to­graphs cer­tainly shines a light on their trick­ster na­ture.


This year marks the cen­te­nary of one of the most cel­e­brated events in fairy­ol­ogy. One hun­dred years ago, in July 1917, two young cousins, Elsie Wright and Frances Grif­fiths, were de­lighted to dis­cover fairies flit­ting about Cottingley Beck, a wood­land stream that ran be­hind their houses in the small York­shire town of Cottingley.

Elsie’s fa­ther, Arthur Wright, was a keen am­a­teur pho­tog­ra­pher and proud owner of a Midg cam­era. The girls begged to bor­row it and set off back down the steep sides of the beck to cap­ture images of what they’d seen.

Though of the same era as Ko­dak’s Box Brownie, which used film, the Midg em­ployed glass plates to cre­ate neg­a­tives. Arthur care­fully de­vel­oped the ex­posed plate in his own dark room. The pic­ture clearly showed fairies danc­ing be­fore Frances; a later im­age re­vealed Elsie with a winged gnome.

The pho­to­graphs were cir­cu­lated amongst the fam­ily as ob­jects of cu­rios­ity for a cou­ple of years, but it wasn’t un­til 1919 that they were re­vealed to the wider world – a world reel­ing from the af­ter­math of the blood­i­est con­flict it had ever wit­nessed.

World War I – at that time sim­ply called The Great War – had shaken the foun­da­tions of Bri­tish so­ci­ety. For thou­sands of peo­ple, the triple pil­lars of Ed­war­dian life – the sanc­tity of the home, know­ing one’s place, and do­ing one’s duty to God – had been shat­tered. Gen­der roles had been ques­tioned, as had the stric­tures of class; but, even more cru­cially, be­lief in a pa­ter­nal de­ity was un­der­go­ing a cri­sis. The hor­ror of the trenches had left many ask­ing how a mer­ci­ful God could over­look such an abom­i­na­tion. Peo­ple who had once called them­selves Chris­tians be­came Spir­i­tu­al­ists, ag­nos­tics or even athe­ists.

Into this widen­ing re­li­gious void stepped the Theo­soph­i­cal So­ci­ety, a wide­spread group that in many ways pre­fig­ured the forms of con­tem­po­rary spir­i­tu­al­ity with its avoid­ance of strict dogma and fo­cus on the cen­tral mes­sage of love con­tained within each of the ma­jor re­li­gions.

Elsie’s mother, Polly Wright, be­came a mem­ber and de­clared: “Theos­o­phy has saved me from athe­ism.” It was at a Theosophist meet­ing in 1919, at which the sub­ject of fairies came up, that Polly first showed the fairy pho­to­graphs to any­one out­side the im­me­di­ate fam­ily. From there, the images went on to be dis­played at the Theosophists’ an­nual meet­ing in Har­ro­gate in late 1919, and some­time in early 1920 they came to the at­ten­tion of Ed­ward L Gard­ner, a se­nior mem­ber of the Theo­soph­i­cal So­ci­ety.

Gard­ner was en­tranced. He sought out the fam­ily and asked for the plates to be sent to him so the pho­to­graphs could be reprinted more sharply. As a pre­cau­tion, he showed them to pho­to­graphic ex­pert Harold Snelling, who re­ported they had been taken as sin­gle ex­po­sures, but, more im­por­tantly, that he had de­tected move­ment in the wings.

Gard­ner se­cured per­mis­sion to take the pho­to­graphs on a lec­ture tour. He gave a talk in Lon­don, which Miss EM Blom­field at­tended. She was so taken by the story of the girls and their pho­to­graphs that she con­tacted her cousin, the cre­ator of Sher­lock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; by an ex­tra­or­di­nary co­in­ci­dence, he had been com­mis­sioned to write a piece on fairies for the Christ­mas edi­tion of The Strand mag­a­zine.


Conan Doyle, de­spite be­ing a noted Spir­i­tu­al­ist, was ini­tially cau­tious re­gard­ing the pho­to­graphs, as wit­nessed in his com­ment to psy­chi­cal re­searcher Sir Oliver Lodge: “We must both be on our guard.” But Gard­ner never doubted. In no small way it was his con­fi­dence in the pho­to­graphs that pre­vented Conan Doyle from dis­miss­ing the mat­ter en­tirely. Even when the pho­to­graphic ex­perts at Ko­dak were less en­thu­si­as­tic about the prints than Snelling, both Doyle

Snelling re­ported that the images had been taken as sin­gle ex­po­sures

and Gard­ner chose to em­brace only the pos­i­tive com­ments.

Conan Doyle’s ar­ti­cle, ac­com­pa­nied by the two orig­i­nal pic­tures, ap­peared in The Strand mag­a­zine in 1920 to mixed re­views, but by no means to the uni­ver­sal scorn that’s some­times re­ported. As the ‘epoch-mak­ing’ news spread to other pub­li­ca­tions, the press saw how well the pho­to­graphs sold news­pa­pers and were care­ful not to kill the story. Doyle set sail for a lec­ture tour of Aus­tralia and didn’t hear about the last three pho­to­graphs un­til the end of 1920. Three months later, he wrote a se­cond ar­ti­cle in The Strand, later re­pro­duced in his book, The Com­ing of the Fairies. But by the time this was pub­lished in 1922, with the third, fourth and fifth images of the Cottingley fairies, Doyle had be­come an ob­ject of de­ri­sion in some quar­ters.

The girls stuck to their story: they had seen fairies at the Beck. They kept their se­cret for decades, un­til Frances con­fessed to the Times in 1983 that the pic­tures had been faked. Hat pins had an­chored fairy cut-outs, and a gen­tle breeze had set their pa­per wings a-flut­ter­ing.

Yet she still main­tained she had taken the last two pho­to­graphs, and that they were of gen­uine fairies. She said they had only faked the other pho­to­graphs to stop the grown-ups laugh­ing at them.

The tem­plate for the fairy images was a line of danc­ing girls from The Princess Mary

Gift Book, a pop­u­lar pub­li­ca­tion pro­duced to raise money for the war ef­fort. Frances had brought her copy with her when she came to Cottingley from South Africa in 1917. It was Elsie, the fam­ily artist, who had traced the pic­ture and added wings to the fig­ures.

It seems strange that Conan Doyle, a man whose sharp mind had con­ceived that most cel­e­brated and cere­bral of de­tec­tives, should have been fooled by two lit­tle girls. Holmes is rightly proud of his ra­ti­o­ci­na­tive abil­i­ties and his pow­ers of ob­ser­va­tion and de­duc­tion. Surely his cre­ator also had some tal­ent in that di­rec­tion? In­deed he had.


Called upon to be­come a real-life con­sult­ing de­tec­tive in the mat­ter of The Great Wyr­ley

Ou­trages, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle rose mag­nif­i­cently to the oc­ca­sion, chan­nelling pure Sher­lock in a case that changed le­gal his­tory.

In the early 1900s, in the Stafford­shire vil­lage of Great Wyr­ley, a se­ries of poi­son pen let­ters be­gan to cir­cu­late, much to the dis­tress of their re­cip­i­ents. At around the same time, a num­ber of horses were at­tacked and mu­ti­lated in their fields (see FT21:8-9).

The po­lice didn’t look far for a sus­pect: lo­cal so­lic­i­tor Ge­orge Edalji was known to wan­der the district at night. He was half-In­dian and non-Chris­tian – and that was deemed suf­fi­cient ev­i­dence to con­vict him. Ge­orge was sen­tenced to six years hard labour and re­leased af­ter three. He im­me­di­ately sought Conan Doyle’s as­sis­tance in clear­ing his name.

Conan Doyle had trained as an oph­thal­mol­o­gist. He em­ployed his ex­per­tise to re­veal how Ge­orge’s ex­treme short­sight­ed­ness would not have al­lowed him to eas­ily cross a few miles of open coun­try­side, nor find his way through hedges, let alone lo­cate an un-teth­ered pony in a large field on a moon­less night – and all within the mere 35 un­ac­counted-for min­utes avail­able to him to ex­e­cute the dread­ful deed.

The po­lice, an­noyed at Doyle’s in­ter­fer­ence, sought to dis­credit him with coun­ter­feit let­ters, but Doyle saw through their fak­ery and per­se­vered. Edalji was even­tu­ally par­doned and it was par­tially

Charles Doyle was com­mit­ted to the asy­lum, where he con­tin­ued to draw the ‘lit­tle peo­ple’

due to this case that the Court of Ap­peal was es­tab­lished in 1907.

And yet, it is ar­guable that it was Doyle’s very oph­thalmic ex­per­tise that led him astray in the case of the Cottingley Fairy pho­to­graphs.

He was of the opin­ion that chil­dren could see more than adults. He was not think­ing of some half-dreamed, psy­chic abil­ity borne of in­no­cence and con­jured up by the po­ets, but ac­tual, phys­i­cal sight. A scant 16 years be­fore the Cottingley pho­to­graphs ap­peared, Wil­helm Roent­gen had re­ceived a No­bel Prize for his work on Roent­gen Rays, now bet­ter known as X-rays. It must have been ex­cit­ing to sud­denly be able to see through flesh and peer in­side solid bod­ies, and this still rel­a­tively new dis­cov­ery may well have sug­gested to Doyle that there were other ways of see­ing, yet to be dis­cov­ered.

In­ter­est­ingly, in believ­ing chil­dren can see more, Doyle wasn’t a mil­lion miles from the truth: chil­dren can cer­tainly hear more than adults. In 2005, in Barry, South Wales, Howard Sta­ple­ton’s 17-year-old daugh­ter was ha­rassed by a gang of chil­dren loi­ter­ing around the lo­cal Spar shop. Sta­ple­ton de­cided to do some­thing about it, and his so­lu­tion was re­mark­able. Re­call­ing how the noise from a lo­cal fac­tory used to up­set him as a child but left the adults around him un­af­fected, he set about repli­cat­ing the ef­fect – and ‘The Mos­quito’ was born. This de­vice emits high fre­quency sounds that chil­dren can hear, but adults can’t. The Spar be­came the test­ing ground, and sure enough, un­able to bear the noise, the young loi­ter­ers dis­persed.

So Doyle’s hy­poth­e­sis was not un­rea­son­able, but it was fa­tally untested. He fur­ther com­pounded his er­ror by fall­ing back on that flawed ex­pert anal­y­sis in which Harold Snelling had re­ported move­ment in the crea­tures’ wings.

Yet there was also some­thing more com­pelling that urged Conan Doyle to be­lieve – but it wasn’t, as some have ar­gued, the loss of his son, Kings­ley, in the Great War.


As in my own case, fairies were a fam­ily busi­ness for the Doyles. Richard ‘ Dicky’ Doyle, Arthur’s un­cle, was a fa­mous il­lus­tra­tor of many fairy books, such as the se­ries by An­drew Lang named af­ter the colours of their cov­ers: TheYel­low Fairy Book, The Vi­o­let Fairy Book, The Green Fairy Book and so on. Dicky also cre­ated the ban­ner art­work for Punch mag­a­zine. It might have seemed strange to the ca­sual ob­server that the mast­head for a satir­i­cal mag­a­zine should fea­ture so many fairy and gob­lin-like crea­tures play­ing around the let­ter­ing, but it served the mag­a­zine well, be­com­ing its long­est last­ing ban­ner and sur­viv­ing up un­til 1958.

Doyle’s fa­ther, Charles Al­ta­mont Doyle, also had artis­tic lean­ings, but he was not quite as tal­ented as his brother. Charles trained in ar­chi­tec­ture and de­signed a foun­tain at Holy­rood Palace, but still drew fairies in his spare time. Be­set by self-doubt and de­pres­sion, he drifted into al­co­holism. When Arthur was still in his 20s, Charles was sent to a nurs­ing home. Once there he suc­cumbed to an even deeper de­pres­sion and be­gan suf­fer­ing from epilepsy. Af­ter a vi­o­lent es­cape at­tempt, he was com­mit­ted to Sun­ny­side, the iron­i­cally named lu­natic asy­lum at Mon­trose where he con­tin­ued to draw all man­ner of ‘lit­tle peo­ple’; his own par­ents had been Ir­ish, and he saw the fairies as diminu­tive fig­ures without wings.

In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, we have a man al­most ge­net­i­cally pre­dis­posed to see fairies, hav­ing been brought up in a highly artis­tic house­hold, with both his un­cle and his fa­ther deeply in­ter­ested in fairies and fairy lore. Not shar­ing the fam­ily’s fa­cil­ity for art, he turned to sci­ence to prove the ex­is­tence of the lit­tle peo­ple.

Arthur ob­vi­ously adored his fa­ther, and ar­ranged an ex­hi­bi­tion of his paint­ings in 1924. In His Last Bow, he has Sher­lock Holmes use ‘Al­ta­mont’, his fa­ther’s mid­dle name, as an alias. To have had a par­ent locked up in a lu­natic asy­lum would have left most lateVic­to­ri­ans or early Ed­war­dians filled with shame and re­luc­tant to ad­dress any as­pect of that par­ent’s ma­nia. That Conan Doyle should be ac­tively cel­e­brat­ing his fa­ther by pro­mot­ing be­lief in fairies, con­trary to the pre­vail­ing so­cial niceties, is per­haps a mea­sure of his af­fec­tion for Charles. Per­haps Conan Doyle saw his fa­ther’s dip­so­ma­nia as just an­other way of pierc­ing the veil be­tween the worlds. If he could now prove fairies ex­isted, it would mean his fa­ther might not be as crazy as every­one said: Charles would be re­deemed.

In 1926, Punch pub­lished a car­toon (see over) of Sir Arthur smil­ing benef­i­cently, his head wreathed in clouds of pipe smoke, shack­led to a pen­sive Holmes. Be­neath it ran a poem lament­ing Doyle’s fan­ci­ful ideas, com­pared to Holmes’s cool logic, but end­ing with real warmth and af­fec­tion:

We sym­pa­thise with Holmes and yet, in Punch’s heart your name is set.

Of ev­ery DOYLE he is a lover, for DICKY’S sake who did his cover.


One of Conan Doyle’s prob­lems was that he couldn’t be­lieve that Elsie and Frances – whom he de­scribed as “chil­dren of the ar­ti­san class” – would have the brazen cheek to at­tempt to hood­wink a man of his su­pe­rior so­cial stand­ing.

In look­ing at these girls with 21st cen­tury eyes, per­haps we de­ceive our­selves too.

In 1917, when the girls said they first en­coun­tered the fairies, Elsie was 17 and Frances was 10. Ten seems very young to us now, but this was a time when chil­dren rou­tinely went to work at the age of 12.

At 17, de­spite Conan Doyle’s de­scrip­tion of them as “chil­dren”, Elsie cer­tainly wasn’t a “lit­tle girl”. Fur­ther­more, both cousins were only chil­dren within their re­spec­tive fam­i­lies, a highly un­usual sit­u­a­tion for that era. Without sib­lings, they would have spent far more of their time in adult com­pany and per­haps gained more so­phis­ti­ca­tion than their years might sug­gest. Fi­nally, both were com­par­a­tively well trav­elled. Elsie had spent time in Canada, and Frances had been al­most en­tirely raised in South Africa. By the time their pic­tures be­came fa­mous, the girls had al­ready seen far more of the world than any other young­ster in Cottingley. While they weren’t schem­ing minxes, they played their part in the drama, as did the sus­cep­ti­ble Conan Doyle.

The Cottingley lo­cals treated the whole af­fair as a joke that had got out of hand, and Elsie’s 1983 con­fes­sion sug­gested that the girls had not told the truth for fear of em­bar­rass­ing public fig­ures like Gard­ner and Doyle. But was there more to it than that?

Con­sider the images on the op­po­site page. The first looks like a di­rect copy of the most fa­mous of the Cottingley pho­to­graphs – the ini­tial one, show­ing the fairies danc­ing be­fore Frances. Its ex­e­cu­tion, though, is poor in com­par­i­son to the Cottingley pic­tures, and the pale fairies seem out of place against the dark back­ground.

I have been able to find very lit­tle about its cre­ator, who ap­pears to have died without re­veal­ing how she made it. It was cre­ated in early 1918 and is held in the same col­lec­tion as the Cottingley fairy ma­te­rial, where it is la­belled ‘Mrs In­man’s Fake Pho­to­graph’. 1

The se­cond im­age was taken in the sum­mer of 1917 and pub­lished in Fe­bru­ary 1918 in a pop­u­lar mag­a­zine called The Sphere, a sis­ter pub­li­ca­tion to the Il­lus­trated Lon­don

News. Both images pre-date the Cottingley pho­to­graphs, which weren’t seen by any­one out­side of the im­me­di­ate fam­i­lies un­til 1919. 2

We have only the word of the Wright and Grif­fiths fam­i­lies that the girls took the first Cottingley pho­to­graphs in the sum­mer of 1917. What if they didn’t? The fam­i­lies’ in­sis­tence that the first two pic­tures were taken in 1917 could point to a dif­fer­ent con­clu­sion: that the adults were part of the con­spir­acy too.

Given his keen in­ter­est in photography, it is a real pos­si­bil­ity that Arthur Wright had come across one or both of these ear­lier pic­tures and de­cided he could do bet­ter, and that his wife Polly set out to bring the re­sult­ing images to as wide an au­di­ence as pos­si­ble.

Although Box Brownie cam­eras were man­u­fac­tured cheaply and ac­tively mar­keted at that time as be­ing for the use of chil­dren, Midg cam­eras were trick­ier to use. Could it

The Cottingley lo­cals treated the af­fair as a joke that had got out of hand

be that Arthur Wright, the keen am­a­teur pho­tog­ra­pher, did more than merely de­velop the glass plates? In their as­sess­ment of the pho­to­graphs, Ko­dak stated that an “ex­pe­ri­enced pho­tog­ra­pher” might have been in­volved.

Could Arthur have taken the pic­tures? It’s an in­trigu­ing thought.

What of Polly’s part in bring­ing the pic­tures to the at­ten­tion of the Theosophists? It is pos­si­ble that fairies were men­tioned at that meet­ing – but what if she her­self had in­sti­gated the dis­cus­sion? And, fairies aside, why was she car­ry­ing around a pair of two-year old pho­to­graphs in her hand­bag when the sub­ject came up in 1919? Most moth­ers up­date pic­tures of their chil­dren reg­u­larly – and with a pho­tog­ra­pher for a hus­band, Polly would have had more op­por­tu­nity than most to have new pho­to­graphs taken of her daugh­ter and niece.

There is no ar­gu­ment that the fourth and in­trigu­ing fifth pho­to­graph, known as The Fairy

Sun-bath, 3 were taken as late as 1920, long af­ter the Sphere and In­man images, but this raises a fur­ther ques­tion: if fairies were so preva­lent around the Beck, why wait three years to get more pic­tures of them? Did Arthur Wright lose his nerve? Or were the 1917 pic­tures ac­tu­ally taken some time later – pos­si­bly as late as 1919, not long be­fore they were re­vealed to the world?

Af­ter ini­tially speak­ing highly of Conan Doyle, it seems Wright’s at­ti­tude to­ward him changed and cooled – but what was the rea­son for this new­found re­serve? Arthur seems to have been dis­tanc­ing him­self from the en­tire af­fair. It is im­pos­si­ble to know ex­actly why, but if he had cre­ated the pho­to­graphs and asked his daugh­ter and niece to claim own­er­ship, then, by the time Doyle be­came in­volved, the mat­ter had moved be­yond any op­por­tu­nity for him to ad­mit it was a prank. If he was so em­broiled, it is likely he was ei­ther em­bar­rassed or ashamed of us­ing the girls to front the pho­tos, and pos­si­bly fear­ful of be­ing ac­cused of fraud and even of ob­tain­ing money by de­cep­tion.

At this point one has to ask: Cui bono? Who would ben­e­fit from such a scheme?

It is likely that Gard­ner paid the Wright fam­ily for use of the images in his lec­tures and the pho­to­graphs were much re­pro­duced and sold as post­cards. Then, just as things seemed to be as good as they could get, they landed Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – the big fish they prob­a­bly didn’t ex­pect to hook.

In a let­ter to Arthur Wright, Conan Doyle men­tions that The Strand will pay five pounds for the tem­po­rary use of the pho­to­graphs and a fur­ther five pounds for tem­po­rary use in

the Amer­i­can edi­tion. That’s some­where in the re­gion of £225 to­day and would have paid many months’ rent on a cot­tage back then.

In a let­ter to Gard­ner dated 3 Au­gust 1921, Doyle writes: “I hope to get a small dowry for Elsie from the fairies. Also for the lit­tle girl.” That small dowry be­came £100 – worth £4,500 now. With sums like this at stake, the pres­sure on the girls must have been enor­mous. How­ever, they were not chil­dren. By 1921, Elsie was 21 and ‘lit­tle’ Frances 14, two years older than many chil­dren in full-time em­ploy­ment and con­sid­ered a young adult by the stan­dards of the day.

In­ci­den­tally, there has of­ten been some con­fu­sion over the girls’ ages, even from Gard­ner. In a hand­writ­ten note dated 25 July 1920, he asks a se­ries of ques­tions on one side of the pa­per with the answers on the other, pre­sum­ably as he re­ceived them. He gives their ages as 17 and 10. In a type­writ­ten note out­lin­ing the story, (and pos­si­bly as prepa­ra­tion for his own book, pub­lished in 1945, he mis­tak­enly gives their ages as 13 and 10). Pho­to­graphs sug­gest more than three years’ dif­fer­ence in age be­tween Elsie and Frances.

Conan Doyle in­sisted on us­ing aliases for the girls – Elsie be­came ‘Iris’ and Frances ‘Alice’ – con­cerned that “a hun­dred chara­bancs” would de­scend upon the Beck. But his sub­terfuge was in vain. Some­how the story leaked, and within a week re­porters from na­tional news­pa­pers had found their way to Cottingley. If more in­ter­est ul­ti­mately re­sulted in more rev­enue, it is not dif­fi­cult to imag­ine the source of that leak.

All of this is con­jec­ture. Although I be­lieve my ar­gu­ment is com­pelling, I can’t prove who took the pho­to­graphs or when: no one can. The only thing that’s cer­tain is that, a cen­tury on, the Cottingley pho­to­graphs haven’t given up all their se­crets...


Brother­ton Col­lec­tion, Leeds Univer­sity Li­brary. This in­for­ma­tion was kindly pro­vided by Janet Bord. She ex­plained that in her book Real En­coun­ters with

Fairies, the Sphere pho­to­graph was re­ferred to but in­ad­ver­tently not re­pro­duced.

3 In 2008, Frances’s daugh­ter ap­peared on the BBC’s An­tiques Road­show, where she said her mother had al­ways claimed that she had taken the fifth pho­to­graph and that it showed real fairies. If you ex­am­ine it closely, faces ap­pear in the grass to the right of the fairy fig­ures. So many peo­ple pin their hopes on this fi­nal pic­ture, but it too would ap­pear to be a hoax. Both Elsie and Frances claimed they took the pho­to­graph – and per­haps they both did: ac­cord­ing to the pho­to­graphic ex­pert Geoffrey Craw­ley, it ap­pears to be a sim­ple dou­ble ex­po­sure.


Janet Bord, “Cottingley Umasked”, FT53:4853, Spring 1985; Fairies: Real En­coun­ters with the Lit­tle Peo­ple, Michael O’Mara Books, 1997. Joe Cooper, The Case of the Cottingley Fairies, Robert Hale, 1990.

FIONA MA­HER is the au­thor of The Last Changeling and the Hor­ror in a Hurry se­ries of novel­las. She is the or­gan­iser of The Leg­endary Llan­gollen Faery Fes­ti­val.

LEFT: The Midg cam­era used for the first two fairy pho­to­graphs taken in 1917. FAC­ING PAGE: A fairy of­fers flow­ers to Elsie in one of the 1920 pho­tos.

ABOVE: The two 1917 pho­to­graphs, show­ing fairies danc­ing be­fore Frances and Elsie with a winged ‘gnome’. BE­LOW: A fairy drawn by Elsie in later life.

TOP: Conan Doyle’s un­cle, the artist Richard ‘Dickie’ Doyle. ABOVE CEN­TRE: The young Conan Doyle and his fa­ther Charles Al­ta­mont Doyle. ABOVE: One of Richard Doyle’s exquisitely de­tailed fairy il­lus­tra­tions.

LEFT: The fifth and fi­nal Cottingley photo, “The Fairy Sun-bath”. BE­LOW: Conan Doyle and his fa­mous cre­ation in a Punch car­toon of 1926.

TOP: The mys­te­ri­ous Dorothy In­man photo of early 1918. ABOVE: The fairy photo pub­lished in The Sphere mag­a­zine in Fe­bru­ary 1918. Both images pre­date the pub­li­ca­tion of the Cottingley pho­tos.

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